Happy Soup for February

The twenty-eight long days of February inspire me to find beauty in the ordinary things of the day.
Today’s inspiration is Happy Soup. It’s perfect for beginning a Valentine’s meal, and it’s also perfect for lean days of Lent. It’s also a soup that can be made start to finish in about an hour. It’s filling, delicious, and beautiful to serve. That’s why I call it Happy Soup. The real name is Roasted Beet and Carrot Bisque.

Yes, I didn’t tell you that at first because I know many of you will stop reading at the word Beet. But just look at how lovely it looks in that little soup bowl. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and swirl it around? Mr. H.C. was dubious, but two spoonfuls later, he exclaimed, “This is delicious!” (in a surprised voice…)

The last of the garden beets were looking sad in the fridge, so they inspired this soup day: four beets, three carrots, one large potato, and one large onion, broth, and herbs and spices is all you need. (You could substitute parsnips for the potato if you have some). But the one ingredient that you might not have, and is really critical to the taste, is Zatar.

It is a middle eastern spice blend; you can order it online here if you don’t have a Middle Eastern market or a Penzey’s nearby… This is not some odd spice that has one use — truly, it is delicious, and can be sprinkled on vegetables, chicken, breads, sauces, soups, rice… Zatar (or Za’atar) has a tangy, salty, earthy taste that you really need to try.

So, get your Zatar, and try this Happy Soup with bread and a salad.

HAPPY SOUP

Have on hand: 4 beets, 3 carrots, a large onion, and 1-2 potatoes or parsnips, depending on size. Enough broth to cover vegetables; 2-3 tsp. Zatar; assorted spices (salt, pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, 2 T. honey or agave syrup.)

Chop the vegetables into small cubes of a similar size and toss them in 2 T. olive oil, 2 T. balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pour them on to a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes; take the veggies out, stir them around with a spatula, and roast again for 10 minutes longer, or until they are fairly soft. (You are still going to cook them for longer, so they don’t have to be totally done.)

Here are the vegetables prepared for roasting. I have about 4 cups, and that made enough for 4 servings. How big or small you cut the vegetables will determine how long you have to roast them.

Scrape the veggies from the pan into a soup pot. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary if you have one, 2 tsp. Zatar, and cover the vegetables with broth. I used chicken broth because that was what I had, but vegetable broth would be just as good. Simmer the vegetables until really soft –about a half hour — but don’t cook down all the broth, because you need it in the next step.

Pour the vegetables and hot broth into a blender (carefully) and puree. Alternately, you could use an immersion blender, but I can’t say how that would work, because I don’t have one. If you need to add a bit more broth to blend the vegetables up well, go ahead. I added an extra 1/4 cup.

Pour the blended bisque back into the soup pot and add 1 t. cardamom, 1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg, 2 T. honey or agave syrup, salt & pepper to taste. Simmer and stir gently just till all is mixed in. Keep tasting and adding spices to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and add a dollop of Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with more Zatar, and serve.

This….

…to this — in about 40 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

Sit and enjoy the brilliant red color in your bowl, the warming earthiness in your mouth, and the filled feeling in your stomach.
And be glad.

Kale, again?

I thought I had settled the whole kale issue in the fall with The Trouble with Kale.

Turns out, I didn’t because last week, on the eleventh of February, I walked down to check out the garden. I discovered both spinach and kale cheerfully surviving the Pennsylvania winter with just a light layer of straw mulch. Today, February 18th, I went down with my scissors and harvested both kale and spinach for a salad. The kale had new growth; there were a few larger frost bitten leaves around the edges, but the inside of the plant was actually growing.

Now admittedly we have had a very mild winter. But the temperatures have dropped to 8-10 degrees several times and one week in particular it was that cold all week.

The best thing about this is Fresh Greens. In. February. So for those of you who live in a year round warm climate, excuse me while I SHOUT IN JOY!


I’ve been trying an experiment this winter in trying to cook as much as I can with what’s on hand. (Note the word trying used twice…) That means potatoes, onions, garlic, beef, eggs, frozen peppers, canned green beans, beets, frozen squash/pumpkin, applesauce, salsa, frozen okra, canned and stewed tomatoes, and pickles/relish/ketchup.

The only vegetables I’ve been buying are mushrooms and carrots and an occasional red pepper. I had beautiful peppers last year, but none of them turned red (even though one variety was specifically a red bell pepper). I hope to remedy that this year — the frozen peppers are very acceptable.

But not in salads. I used the last of our onions two weeks ago. I’ve got ten potatoes left and two of them look like this:

We haven’t been having many salads this winter. So it was particularly exciting to discover the growing kale and spinach. If you remember the one drawback to kale was the cabbage worms. But guess what? There’s NO cabbage worms in winter.

So I’m rethinking the kale issue. If I plant it in September, I could have some greens in the fall and winter with no worries about cabbage worms. And this mild winter has me thinking of a hoop house to extend the season on both sides. Just a small one, maybe?

You Tube Video from BuddyClub Gardening. Click on the photo and it will take you to the DIY cheap hoop house video

Hoop House or not, I planted another row of spinach today and threw in some radishes for good measure. (They were just short rows…) It only took me ten minutes; it was last year’s leftover seeds and it still could snow in April;  but I couldn’t resist planting something on Feb. 18th. Just because I could!

And since I only harvested enough for two kale and spinach salads, I’ll just have to give you one of my favorite salad dressing recipes.

Tomato Vinaigrette (The basic recipe is from the Hay Day Country Market Cookbook, but I changed it a bit.)

6 sun-dried tomatoes soaked in 1/3 cup almost boiling water for about a half-hour.
Drain the tomatoes, save the liquid, and coarsely chop the tomatoes.
Mix the tomatoes with 3 T. mixed vinegars–balsamic, red wine, white wine, cider, or lemon juice.
Add a clove of minced or pressed garlic and 1 T. whatever fresh herbs you have. Basil is good, Rosemary is good, Thyme is good, Dill is wonderful in the summer…
Add 1/2 t. salt and some fresh pepper.
Put all the above in a blender or small food processor and pulse five or six times.
While the blender is still running, add the liquid from the tomatoes, and then 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil in a thin slow stream and blend until all the oil is mixed in.

This is a thick, spoonable dressing. Dress it up with capers or chopped olives if you are serving it immediately; or you can add a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise or Greek yogurt to make it creamier.

(We had our spinach and kale salads with cheeseburgers from the grill. Outside. In February. Really.)

Troubles behind the Green Door

The trouble with winter … is not snow.

The trouble with winter in the country… is not snowy unplowed roads.

The trouble with winter in the county in an old house… is not frosty, drafty, arctic air.

The trouble with winter in the country in an old house that’s not quite finished…

is mice.

The other trouble is that we were lulled into thinking we had successfully insulated, caulked, and boarded up all holes when we redid the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the bedroom, and the mudroom.

The other trouble is, we aren’t finished; so there are other parts of the cottage that are not successfully insulated, caulked and boarded up so the worthless little critters can still get in. (Mice can get in a hole that is the size of a pencil eraser!)

Trouble lurks behind this green door.

green door to the basement

(This green door illustrates the most famous post on Apple Hill Cottage’s blog. About 50 (!) people per day read this post about making a shiny brass door handle look like oil rubbed bronze. It amazes me that there is so much interest in getting rid of shiny brass.)  But back to the troubles at hand: behind this green door with the lovely oil-rubbed bronze handle is the basement of the cottage.

We have a split level basement. Behind the green door go down five steps and turn to the left and there’s a door to the outside. There’s also a closet where King Henry the Cat has his litter box. The laundry is down there too as well as built-in shelves, which are filled to the max with the sundries of living in an unfinished house: screws, nails, paints, paintbrushes, stains, tarps, caulking tubes, electric supplies…. Turn to the right and go down six more steps and there’s the rest of the basement — the furnace, the hot water heater, the toilet, sink, and shower (!)  and beyond that Mr. H.C.’s workshop.  In addition to all that stuff, Mr. H.C. keeps a lot of his business inventory down there. It’s a basement’s basement, and there are quite a lot of holes to the outside that have not been insulated, caulked, or boarded up. And frankly, it is WAY down on the list of things to redo around here.

We tried to close the green door last night before we went to bed. About three o’clock King Henry woke us Mr. H.C.  because he needed to get down there to his litter box fast. So there really isn’t the option of closing the green door. There is, however, the option of locking the cat down there with the mice…

(Spoiler alert: If you are a mouse lover, read no further…)

As far as we know, our lovable but worthless cat has caught one mouse. It was dead in his mouth when he brought it to us, but lately I’ve been living in fear that he will jump on the bed at night with a live mouse in his mouth. Mr. H.C. also found a trap with nothing but one mouse leg in it, so the cat could have eaten the mouse out of the trap too. We aren’t sure about that; we haven’t seen any 3-legged mice around lately, but if it gives the cat a taste for mice, I’m all for it.

Mr. H.C. reminds me that Henry caught a mouse this summer too. Yes, he did; but that doesn’t count because he caught it outside. I’m fine with well-behaved mice who stay outside where they belong.

It’s terrible to have mice in one’s kitchen. Suddenly nothing is certain and I can’t be sure if  a mouse did or didn’t scurry over a pan. In the warming drawer of my OVEN I found mouse droppings! Ugh. Now I have to wash every pan before I use it. I’ve lived with mice before. It’s not a surprise. I just thought I was done with them when we finished our beautiful kitchen.

The last straw was a few days ago when I opened the oven door and found a stash of cat food in the corner of the oven. CAN I SHOUT HERE?

Yes, we are feeding the cat expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and the mice are stealing the expensive Rachael Ray Zero Grain Chicken and Potato cat food, and hoarding it in the corner of the oven. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

And just so you know, last week when we were in Home Depot the mouse traps were SOLD OUT! So we must not be the only ones with this problem…

And just so you know, I am blessed that Mr. H.C. takes care of all the mouse trap issues…

And just so you know, the oven is now sparkling clean, the green door is now closed at night, and the mouse troubles are staying downstairs. For Now….

cat napping on blanket img_7762

So the cat can continue with his daily routines.